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7 black Gulf oil rig workers settle discrimination claim

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Seven black workers who said they were subjected to hangman's nooses in a racially hostile environment on an offshore oil rig will share in a $290,000 settlement of a discrimination lawsuit filed in Mississippi, federal officials announced Thursday.

The settlement announced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission resolved a suit filed against Tulsa, Okla.-based Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co. for racial harassment on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The monetary relief for the victims in this case should remind employers that there is a high price to pay for racial harassment," the EEOC's regional attorney, C. Emanuel Smith, said in a statement.

Smith's Birmingham office covers Alabama, most of Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle. The workers in the suit lived in central Mississippi in the area of Meridian and Philadelphia.

Besides nooses, EEOC officials said the workers were subjected to derogatory racial language and race-based name-calling.

Helmerich Vice President and General Counsel Steve Mackey said Thursday the settlement arose from an incident in 2002 on one offshore rig. He said the company "fully investigated this soon after it was first reported." He said it was never determined whether the alleged harassment came from H&P employees or workers from other companies on the rig.

Mackey said the company chose to settle the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Miss., to avoid the cost and uncertainty of continued litigation.

He said H&P did not admit that the company or any of its employees engaged in any racial harassment or discrimination at any time.

"This type conduct is a violation of H&P anti-discrimination policy," he said in a telephone interview from Tulsa.

EEOC Chair Naomi C. Earp said a noose is a "racial icon" that constitutes a severe form of harassment under the federal Civil Rights Act.

"Nooses are closely associated with racial intimidation, violence and death, and therefore have no business in the workplace," Earp also said in the statement.

The settlement requires the company to prevent any racial harassment or retaliation, conduct anti-discrimination training and post a notice about the settlement.

The company also must redistribute to the work force its policies prohibiting racial harassment, and report certain complaints of harassment or retaliation to the EEOC for monitoring.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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